The Stone Pony, one of the world’s best-known music venues, opened its doors to concert-goers on Feb. 8, 1974. Like Yuri, a player on the Jersey Shore for fifty years, the Stone Pony is a survivor. It’s in the same place it’s always been — on the corner of Second and Ocean Avenues in Asbury Park. And despite being situated only 100 feet from the beach, the Pony withstood Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and threats of abandonment or destruction that befell the Capitol Theatre in Passaic.
Myths and legends take root and grow. Back then, in the late ’70s — when the drinking age was still 18 — Asbury Park had nearly a dozen clubs featuring live music and acts, both local and national, eventually found a home there. Most clubs have a history as dive bars and speakeasies. Jazz clubs sprung up. It was the crossroads for musicians heading from New York City to Philadelphia.
Rutgers-rooted, Yuri, a founding member of Kinderhook, was a contemporary of Bruce Springsteen, a working musician at the time from the early days gigging the college circuit with its surrounding New Brunswick bars before reaching out to the Jersey Shore. Springsteen had released two albums before the club opened its doors, but he made the Pony his comfort zone. Kinderhook, notably one of the most popular country rock bands on the East Coast, played at the Pony many times.
Fifty years of music and memories continue to leave their mark on the Jersey Shore community. Yuri has stories from those days, and I’ve been collecting them since we got together in 2009. When he called the others from Kinderhook about a gig in March 2010, we had no idea how many incredibly infectious fans would show up during one of the worst storms that hit New Jersey. But they came and loved it! So began the Kinderhook restart. They still perform to this day, although sans Yuri on fiddle.
Two more shows followed that unexpected success– a doubleheader with Southern Cross at the Highlander and a sold-out show at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club. That’s when we approached Kyle Brendle, the Pony’s longtime promoter since the mid-80s. He knew the draw Kinderhook still had, and we booked a show for the following month. The Pony had the ambiance of music concerts firmly etched into the mindpalaces of the 70s music-loving crowd. Dark and cavernous, it prevails as the embodiment of the concert-goers who remain forever fans of their favorite music and live performances.
More gigs brought Yuri to Asbury Park during the 2013-15 years with the Glimmer Grass, a bluegrass and jamgrass band. The Pony also became center stage for “Light of Day,” a concert by local and national musicians to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease research. It eventually evolved into a huge fundraiser. Yuri performed there with Pat Guadagno and Tired Horses, participating in raising funds and promoting BobFest, a concert of Bob Dylan’s music for his birthday celebration.
Yuri loves the challenge of string versus string– guitar versus fiddle. He always knows when to come in (if they let him in), when to take it and let it loose, when to take it out, and when to give it back with a graceful bowing-out end note. He had plans to break out of rehab and come home, although getting the flu is not how I would have gone about it. Seasonal flu occurs annually and usually peaks between December and February. While most people survive it, Yuri is at high risk of severe complications.
Fortunately, healthcare providers at the rehab made the right decision to send him to the hospital and two recent days in the ICU. So, Rockin’ Pneumonia+Boogie Woogie Flu, which became a big hit for Johnny Rivers during the winter of 1973, refers to “Walking Pneumonia” and the Asian flu, a pandemic that hit the United States in 1957–58. No matter, it’s a very contagious respiratory illness; he’s being treated at the hospital. Thus, it’s an apropos tune for whatever comes his way, and Yuri is the most amazingly resilient human on this planet. (Is he really an ordinary man with extraordinary skills and musical brilliance from the Universe or a remarkably gifted artist time-traveling from another galaxy disguised as a human?).
Alert and snappy, Yuri charms the ICU nurses and listens to how the respiratory techs work in time counts. Then he asks if they are a player and what instrument. His fingers play the frets of an imaginary guitar, one of many I keep safe until his return home. Yuri’s favorite is the Martin guitar I got from him at auction. I also keep his five-string electric violin close by in the time it will take for complete recovery when he is strong enough and play it the way he would take the stage over five decades in and around the Jersey Shore.
His work covers years of performances and recordings that delve into the lives and loves of a generation that lived through some of the most tumultuous, upending events while dealing with very personally and professionally difficult times that came their way. I’m gathering his work into a compilation of those days with what is happening today.
Sending congratulations to the supporters who are keeping the Pony alive and well for years to come. It’s an icon, a National Treasure, and a survivor.
Just like The Stone Pony, Yuri is a survivor.